Christianity 201

December 23, 2021

Ready for Christmas? There is a Bigger Day to Prepare For!

Thinking Through Mark 13:28-37

■ To watch the sermon on which this is based, click this link.

by Clarke Dixon

Which would have been the better opening for a sermon on the last Sunday before Christmas? These words?

Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing

“Joy to the World” written by Isaac Watts

You probably now have the tune to this popular carol stuck in your head! However, perhaps these words from Jesus would make a better opening for a sermon so close to Christmas?

But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come…And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.

Mark 13:32,33,37 (NRSV)

I’m guessing that most people would pick the Christmas carol over Jesus’ words about the end of the world. But did you know that the carol “Joy to the World” is speaking about the same event Jesus was speaking about? The hymn writer was not originally writing about Christmas, but about the return of Christ!

We can also note that though we are so close to Christmas, we are not there yet. According to the Church calendar, Christmas does not begin until December 25th. Society begins celebrating Christmas much sooner of course, and since we Baptists are not good at following instructions anyway, we sort of follow along and get into the spirit of things early.

This is not Christmas, but Advent, a time set aside for preparing for the arrival of Jesus, both looking back to his arrival in Bethlehem, and looking forward to his return. At Christmas we look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus. We have not really celebrated Advent if we have not looked forward. Today we are looking forward!

As we look forward, there are some things to keep in mind.

The first thing to keep in mind is to keep an open mind.

There are different ways of understanding the Scripture passages that speak of “the end of the world,” especially the Book of Revelation, but also the Scripture we are thinking of today, Mark chapter 13. While many Christians may assume Jesus was speaking about his return, most Bible scholars think that much of Mark 13 refers not to the end of the world, but the destruction of Jerusalem which happened in 70AD.

This makes sense of Jesus’ statement in verse 30:

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

Mark 13:28-30 (NRSV emphasis added)

The NRSV marks in a footnote that the “he” of “he is near,” which may cause us to immediately think of the future return of Jesus, can be translated “it,” as in the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem which did happen within a generation. Indeed this is how the conversation began in the first place:

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?”

Mark 13:1-4 (NRSV)

Some Bible scholars see a shift in the focus from the destruction of Jerusalem and the need to watch for the signs so the people of that day could get out of the city, to Jesus speaking about his return, of which there will be no sign, no warning:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

Mark 13:32-33 (NRSV)

Looking throughout history, many generations of Christians have had those who try to line up world events with Bible verses. So far every generation that has tried this has been wrong. One generation will turn out to be right someday. The point Jesus is making, however, is, don’t watch for signs, just be ready at any moment.

The second thing to keep in mind is that waiting for Christ’s return is an active thing.

When we use the word “waiting” we might think of waiting to reach a destination. You can fall asleep while waiting, but not if you are the driver! Jesus uses an example that puts us in the driver seat:

It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Mark 13:34-37 (NRSV)

The doorkeeper had a task, one which required him to stay awake, to be alert. We do not want to fall asleep at the wheel!

We can think of waiting for Christ’s return as actively anticipating, as actively embracing, and leaning into the coming future God has in store for us. While we wait for Jesus to return, we don’t want to fall asleep at the wheel, but be actively stepping in the direction of Jesus.

The third thing to keep in mind are the examples of those who feel asleep at the wheel in the Christmas story, and those who were wide awake.

King Herod fell asleep at the wheel. Herod’s desire to destroy Jesus led to the terrible tragedy of many infants killed in and around Bethlehem. Needless to say, Herod was far from ready to embrace Jesus.

Herod was asleep at the wheel because he did not have a big enough way of looking at things. Herod was concerned about what people might believe about this one “born king of the Jews” and the threat that would pose to his power. Herod himself, did not believe Jesus was important. He was not watching for the arrival of the Christ.

Some people do not have a big enough view of things today. We can be guilty of this as Christians when we think that only the Bible can teach us anything. Science, history, art, and experience get pushed aside as potential sources of truth. We do this to our own detriment as Christians, and unfortunately, often to the detriment of others.

Having a too narrow view of things can also be true for the non-Christian, when, for example, someone claims that only science can teach us anything. Such folk will be found asleep at the wheel, not watching for Jesus’ arrival.

The religious leaders also fell asleep at the wheel, not having their minds open enough to consider that perhaps these foreign Magi just might have something to teach them about “their” Messiah. They were stuck in their own ideas and priorities. They may have been watching for the arrival of the Messiah, but they were not watching for the arrival of a Messiah that did not strictly fit their own ideas.

Some people do not have an open enough mind today. Their own ideas and priorities take precedence and they will be found asleep at the wheel, not ready to embrace Jesus on his arrival.

Mary and Joseph were wide awake. They were waiting and watching for Jesus’ arrival though I’m sure they didn’t feel entirely prepared. Laying a newborn in a manger does not sound near as prepared as a typical new mom in Canada is!

I am very hopeful that when Christ returns, he will understand if we feel unprepared. No matter when Jesus returns, none of us will feel that we have already “arrived.” We will still feel like there is so much more growth ahead. If we don’t then we definitely need to grow; in humility! However, let us remember that Jesus did not tell us to be the holiest person that ever lived, but to be fully awake. We are to be awake to God’s love and grace.

I am ready for Christmas, but not because I have done much by way of preparations. My wife has handled the lion’s share of the preparations. She normally does and is far better at it than I am.

When it comes to being ready to meet our Maker, Jesus has taken care of the preparations. Through his death and resurrection, through the gift of the Spirit, Jesus does a better job of preparing us to meet our Maker than we could ever do. We may not feel prepared, but in Christ we are prepared.

In Conclusion

It might seem strange to talk about the end of the world this close to Christmas. However, it is not Christmas yet! This is Advent, when we look forward, not to the end, but to a new beginning. There was a new beginning at the birth of Jesus. There will be a wonderful new beginning when Jesus returns. With Jesus you are prepared. But are you awake?

Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Cobourg, Ontario, a little town like Bethlehem. (Not exactly, but we couldn’t resist.) He returns here in two weeks.

November 23, 2014

Awaiting the Coming of Messiah

A little bit of explanation is necessary for today’s devotional. Today I rediscovered the blog Another Red Letter Day by Benjamin Nelson. Normally the connection I am looking for in seeking material here at C201 is a high value placed on scripture, and ARLD does that with each blog post. (And we might break our six month rule and revisit the website again very soon.) But I decided instead to go with one that actually contained no scripture at all but is based on the story of Simeon, the temple prophet who was awaiting the coming of the Messiah.

For those of you who want your daily scripture reading direct, click here to read the story at BibleGateway of Simeon (and Anna, who also awaited the coming of the Anointed One) from Luke 2: 25-38. This is a great preparation as we head into the season of Advent, to understand the expectancy of Christ’s coming.

To read this at source (with a beautiful graphic image) click the title below and then take a minute to look around the rest of the site.


My father always said I should have been born a Levite. Even as a young boy I loved the days we spent in the temple. I grew up just outside the holy city, and so on Sabbath we would all go to the temple to gather for prayers and the reading of the scrolls.

Though I am of the tribe of Judah, my name is Simeon. All my life my teachers and rabbis said I was well named. My name means ‘harkening.’ They would call me ‘the little listener.’ When I was a boy, every Sabbath day there was a Levite who would tell us, the children, stories of our history. Sometimes it seemed the scrolls were nothing but a roll book, name after name – he begat him begat her. But many days he read us stories of the great deliverers of Israel.

We learned that the Lord Almighty had chosen us, the Jews, above all nations, When we would cry out to Him, He would rescue us. He used men and women from all kinds of backgrounds to liberate us from our enemies. I loved those days, those stories, of faith filled heroes like Gideon and Samson, Deborah and Ester, Joshua and Elijah.

These stories would stir up a hope deep in my being to see the Lord’s hand of deliverance once again. In those days it was the Philistines, or the Babylonians, or the Assyrians. Today Rome occupies the holy city, and all of our lands.

Some say the Lord has abandon us, that we are a God forsaken nation because of our repeated rebellions. But they forget the promise God made to our people. He would send Messiah. The scrolls speak of One who would be born not far from here, in Bethlehem, born of the root of Jesse, the tribe of Judah, the son of David. He would be a deliverer. He would set us free once and for all from the hand of our oppressors. He would reign on the throne of David. The kingdom He would  established in Israel would have no end.

O how I longed to see this Messiah.

When I was a boy I didn’t understand the need. My parents protected us from indignities and persecutions we suffered as an occupied people. As I became a man, and began to raise my own family, I felt the oppression first hand. They let us worship after a fashion, but they demanded our money, tribute to their Caesers. They required us to give our children into their service, to do their menial tasks, all the heavy lifting. It’s hardly any different than what our forefathers suffered in Egypt.

I said I was a good listener. Sometimes I would hear things – hear things in my spirit. It’s hard to explain what I mean. In the scrolls we read of seers, those who had visions, even those who encountered angels. But I hear the voice of the Lord. At first I would tell everyone what I had heard, but they started looking at me like I needed special help. So I stopped sharing what I was hearing.

Early on I wasn’t sure if it was the voice of the Lord, but the things I heard always could be found in the scrolls. I would write out what I had heard and read it to the rabbi.  He would go and open the scrolls and show me a prophecy that said the same thing – that confirmed what I had heard.

About twenty years ago now, I think I was in my sixtieth year, I heard something that has thrilled my soul for these two decades. The Holy Spirit of the Almighty told me I would see this Messiah with my own eyes before I tasted death.

This I never shared with anyone. It’s one thing to compare what you hear in your meditations to the scrolls, but this was so personal. But I knew what I had heard. There was no question in my mind. Because I had tested this voice so many times, I knew the voice of my Lord.

It has been twenty years, and there have been days when I thought I missed it, and days when I thought I was crazy. But somewhere inside, I knew that I knew I would see this Long Expected One, the Lord’s Anointed.

It was eight days ago that I heard once again.

“The time is near.”

I began to fast and pray. I would head to the temple every day and worship before the Lord.

Today when I awoke, the Spirit of the Lord came upon me, that’s the only way I can describe it. It was not like in the past when I ‘heard’ things. This was the presence of Holiness. I knew this must be the day, so I dressed and headed to the temple. I didn’t break my fast.

As I stood in the temple and ministered to the Lord, a couple came in with an infant. I could see they were here to dedicate Him to the Lord. As they stepped into the court where I was worshiping, my spirit leapt for joy. This child, this infant was the One, the Promised Messiah.

As they approached, I went to them and fell to my knees before this One born King of the Jews. The young mother handed the child to me, and I wept for joy.

I cried out:

God, you can now release your servant;
release me in peace as you promised.

With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;
it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:

A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
and of glory for your people Israel.

As I looked into the eyes of my Lord the Spirit of the Lord rose up in me and I began to speak what I was hearing.

This child marks both the failure and
the recovery of many in Israel,

A figure misunderstood and contradicted—
the pain of a sword-thrust through you—

But the rejection will force honesty,
as God reveals who they really are.

My heart can barely contain the joy and peace I feel. I have been old but today all things are new. Though our oppression has not changed, today I am free. Though my joints ache and my eyes aren’t what they used to be, I am leaping for joy and I have seen the Lord’s Salvation.

I am ready to go to the bosom of Abraham today, where I can tell my story to those who have gone before.

The day of deliverance is here.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

For further reading, click to read the same treatment of the story of Anna.

I know we’ve posted this song before, but I wanted to share it again with you: